Monday, February 27

Back in Boston: Naked but Productive

Oh, so not naked exactly, but unclothed. I spent last week in Boston, MA for work. I lived in Boston for the winter of 2000/01 and hadn't been back since. Despite many trips through Boston (my employer's head office is about 40 miles outside Boston), I'd not set foot in Boston since we lived there. So I was quite excited to be going to a meeting in the Boston harbour, a short water taxi ride away from old haunts.

The reality was a little different from what I expected. My luggage turned up 84 hours after I did (and only 11 hours before I left), so while I did get to go into Boston and Cambridge, the majority of that time was spent shopping for clothes.

On the other hand, as it often the case when I travel to the US, I was awake early most mornings, so I had a decent chunk of time each day to work on Codename: Vacuum.

I finished off the cards and got them all laid out ready to print today (I've a day off to recover from my travels). I'm hoping to have a playable prototype by the end of today. I'm sure it'll need a big chunk of improvement after I've tested it once or twice, but I've got a good feeling about this version at the moment.

Exciting times!

In other news, I'm off to Bedford this weekend to spend Saturday gaming with Terry, Andrew, Graham, Johan and a bunch of other gaming chums. I used to play weekly with Terry, Andrew and Graham and now see them once a year if I'm lucky - so it'll be a great chance to catch up.

Monday, February 20

Concrete Progress

I'm off to Boston this week for work (posting this from the airport!) so it's been a busy few days, but I've not let that get in the way of progress. Last week I was mostly focused on implementing some of the things recommended by my German language app beta testers and adding a bit more vocabulary in preparation for sharing it with another private beta tester. I'm hoping to have that ready to go not long after I get back from Boston.

The big news is on the Codename: Vacuum front. I placed an order for some wooden pieces from which arrived on Friday (in my office, while I was working from home :-( ), and during my home day lunch break I made a new box for it (I gave mine to Konrad in Berlin when I was over there nearly two years ago). On Saturday I popped over to the office during a trip out and collected the Spielmaterial order and then bagged and stowed that in the box.

I've done most of the cards for the next version, I've just got the event cards left to do. Fortunately, I've got the jet lag hours of 3-6am every day this week to finish off the cards and get everything ready for printing.

I get back Saturday lunchtime, and then I've booked Monday off work to help recover from my jet lag. I can use that day to print out the cards, player mats and boards and then cut all the cards out. For the first time since I gave my copy to Konrad I'll have a copy of Vacuum ready to playtest again. And it will need testing - I've made some sweeping changes, which will likely need a decent chunk of fixing before they are ready for sharing with others.

I'll also try to get a blog post done in the jet lag hours, spelling out how the game works in a bit more detail.

Monday, February 13

Codename:Vacuum - The Premise

I started work on Codename: Vacuum back in November 2011. I wanted to make a fairly quick sci-fi card game - something like Race for the Galaxy but with more direct interaction (don't talk to me about the conflict rules in the Rebel vs. Imperium and The Brink of War expansions - or you're dead to me).

The Wife and I talked about the popularity of deck-builders (we liked Thunderstone for the theme - Dominion not so much) and the speed of Race. And a sci-fi deck builder started talking shape in my head. I bought and tried a couple of the competition (Eminent Domain and Core Worlds, neither of which stayed in my collection for long).

At some point, to keep things simple and different, I decided to set it in our Solar System and then the crazy idea of a Steampunk sci-fi deck builder popped into my head. What if you were playing a sci-fi game set in our solar system over two hundred years where humanity expanded off Earth and filled the solar system with people. But not quite our solar system, the solar system of Jules Verne, HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You start in 1898 with a world not unlike our own in 1900 - a world ruled by the British Empire, the German Empire, the Russians and the Qing Chinese. A world on the brink of World War One. Where 20,000 leagues under the Sea, The Lost World, Deepest Africa and the North and South poles are yet to be explored. A world where the discovery of cavorite allows man to leave the Earth at the turn of the 19th Century, not in its second half. Those intrepid explorers head off to a Moon that could be our dry, dusty moon, or HG Wells' inhabited one. Mars could be the frozen Red Planet, or Edgar Rice Burroughs one swarming with Martians. Is Venus a hellish hot-house? Or is it a balmy university world? Will the asteroid belt be full of untold wealth or ravening hordes of aliens hell-bent on the destruction of mankind?

The only way to find out is to go to those places and explore them. All the while you are trying to build a fleet to protect your population from each other and the ravening hordes. Build your wealth to support development and military, build your population and advance your knowledge.

The game has five different score tracks: military, exploration, population, trade and knowledge. In each game only two or three of those count towards your final score - the players choose which ones during the game. So you are trying to build points in your chosen tracks, ensure you are keeping an eye on your opponents so they don't crush you on their chosen tracks as well as fighting space battles and land wars against each other and the aliens as the game unfolds. Each time you play the locations will be different. In one game the Moon is like ours, in another full of vast mineral riches, next time it's swarming with aggressive aliens.

That's the premise. Early versions fulfilled a lot of that promise, but took a bit long. Hopefully this new version I'm working on will be a big step forward (once I've ironed out the inevitable kinks).

How does that sound?

Monday, February 6

To The Internet!

Libraries are so old school.

With Zombology V2 all done except for the billions of playtests required, and my German language app awaiting beta testing feedback (it's taken me three attempts to get it my mate Mal), I've moved on, like a grown man with the attention span of a four year old, to Codename: Vacuum.

Over the last couple of months I've been considering coming back to Vacuum, and over the last week or so it's taken shape in my head. So much so that I was drafting cards towards the end of last week and designing a board in my head on the weekend. The weekend also involved quite a lot of research about country and continent populations in 1900 (it's set in a steampunk universe) and projections through to 2100 (it's a sci-fi game).

I originally wanted Vacuum to be a pure deck-builder (i.e. only cards) that played in about 45 minutes. I slowly weakened my resolve and some play mats and score tracking cubes crept in, but it was still pretty card-focused. The downside - with play mats, lots of card locations (that moved around!) and the decks spread out in the middle of the table it covered a lot of table top. A lot.

This time round I've relaxed my personal rules for what the game can contain in terms of components and I'm embracing a board (smallish), plastic ships (which I'm substituting wooden discs for at the moment) and a metric ton of wooden cubes (or 50,000,000 people as I like to think of them).

I've not made any bits for this version yet - I've not printed anything or tried anything out. When I do, it will inevitably be spectacularly broken, as all significant re-writes always are, but I've got a good feeling about this. The board for locations, the ship movement and conflict and the probes for exploration all work much more 'realistically'. The core mechanics (deck-building, direct conflict, multiple possible end game conditions of which only a few count) are all the same, but it just feels more right.

I'm off to Sheffield on Wednesday for a check up for my clinical trial. I'll use the four hours of train journeys to start knocking together the cards (with so many of them it's actually quicker to edit the pretty ones from the last version on the computer rather than scribble them all by hand).

I'm feeling pretty excited about Vacuum again after the two year break, maybe a fresh approach was what was needed...